2011: the year of the novel…..?
And here we are, nicely landed into a new year full of hope, apprehension and god knows what else. It’s a while since I’ve last blogged, but now with a refreshingly modern and (hopefully) slick new website, I intend to be updating a lot more regularly about anything and everything. Some of it will be topical, some of it will be in the shape of furious rants, some of it will be a delicious stream of (un)consciousness, but I hope that most of it will be enjoyable.
At this time of year I always think vaguely about new year resolutions and like most people, my intentions and aims for the year ahead are always well-meaning but sadly impractical. For instance, for the last six years, it’s been the top of my ‘must do’ list for the year ahead to finish my novel. Ha. Eight years since its first inception I am nowhere near finishing it than I ever was. But, isn’t that the fate of all would-be novelists?
Actually, (and quite fittingly for the time of year) today was the day that I had The Revelation. I hope this ‘revelation’ will be the revelation to end all revelations. Let’s hope. After all, I’ve just typed the damned word enough times in the last sentence.
My baby, my one dream, my life, my damned never-to-be-finished novel has been stagnating in the depths of my brain, and on my laptop for a long, long time. Inspirations has dried up. The pace has stopped. The characters have refused to progress with the plot, and horror of horrors I have become bored with it. I never thought this would happen.
Anyone who knows me knows I live, dream and breathe all things eighteenth-century (yes, yes and all things Tudor, Stuart, Highland Clearances as well, etc. etc) BUT the idea of getting bored with something destined to be so full of extravagance, sex and delicious scandal is rather galling for the writer in me.
I may be a slow writer when it comes to my novel, and I may not have been working on it for days, weeks, months at a time, but genuinely, never a day goes by without me musing about my novel at some point in the day. It’s played a big part of my life since 2003.
I guess I’ve had a serious case of what you may call ‘writer’s block’. Something that I was sure a trip to the delightful Bath would cure. (It didn’t). Or maybe reading a few delicious well-written historical would cure my trouble. (They didn’t.)
I’ve realised the cause of the block for some time but, rather like a consultant confronted with a vague diagnosis, I’ve been unsure what to do about it. The format isn’t working. I’ve felt for a while it doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere I’m wanting. I’ve never really been a fan of traditional narrative, and I have peppered it with flashbacks, flash forwards and quirky diary entries, but the plot just doesn’t lend itself to so obvious a format.
Over the months, I’ve thought and thought about how to improve it. I suspected it may be that I was just bored with the pace and tried to pick things up a bit, move things along, pick my character up, and flick her somewhere into a future point in her life. But, as my dear grandpa would say ‘na, didn’t work.’ It didn’t.
So today, January 2nd 2011, during a civilised breakfast at a local cafe with my long-suffering partner, I suddenly had the revelation. I have no idea what prompted it. I’m always mulling over my ‘novel problem’ often during the day, but what triggered this revelation rather came out the blue.
In short, I have a new format. It will mean shaking up the novel as it is, throttling it, squeezing it of stagnant word juice and re-hashing major chunks.
Despite the time it has taken me to get this far with it, I’m not despondent at the prospect of doing this. Actually, I think it may speed up the novel-writing process. So while it may seem initially that I am taking several steps backwards, I’m hoping it will build up momentum and will actually shunt me further into the novel than I am at present. Who knows.
The Old Bailey Factor
I’m not new to the Old Bailey Online. I’ve trawled through its archives many a long night, reading through harrowing court records of infanticide and detailed accounts of arson or GBH. Some of the court documentations are disappointingly brief. Some are rich in description. They have really helped me put my novel in context. Yet, until now, my novel has been seriously missing something. It’s been missing the what I now call the ‘old bailey factor’.
London Lives, 1690 – 1800
To my shame, I’ve only just discovered a new ground-breaking project by the Old Bailey Online and other organisations. London Lives is a sister site that is ‘designed to complement and extend the Old Bailey Online’ Simply put, it is a wealth of searchable archives (240,000 to be exact).
By creating a ‘personal workspace’ a registered user can link meaningful documents together, search eighteenth century biographies, write your own biographies of various Londoners, and interact with other users on the site. The archives gives a vivid insight into eighteenth century London covering crime, poverty, illness etc. Documentations include old bailey proceedings (as with the main site) and parish archives, coroner’s reports, hospital records and workhouse registers.
For people like me, it is a treasure trove of magic. So, with the help of London Lives and theOld Bailey Online I’m off to inject the ‘old bailey factor’ into my novel.